Sunak’s pushback on foreign policy shows how trapped he is by his party

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Hello. Rishi Sunak gave his first major foreign policy speech, but there aren’t many details. Some thoughts on why that is, below.


Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stéphane on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and comments to insidepolitics@ft.com.


keep it together

Something was missing from Rishi Sunak’s big foreign policy speech last night: verbs!

There were so many phrases about what UK foreign policy goals are not, or should not be. There have been some comments about what he should aim for and what he should oppose, including implicit criticism of former Prime Minister David Cameron’s pro-China policies.

But there was nothing new about the substance of what British foreign policy should do, for obvious reasons: to choose an action is to choose a direction and to choose a direction is to go headlong into the ‘one of the many factions of the Conservative Party that throws a strop whenever Sunak tries to do anything.

In some respects, the majority of the Conservative Party is exactly the wrong size: big enough that any attempt to blame opposition parties seems hopeless and weak, small enough that any tendency or organized grouping within the party can defeat it in the House of Commons if it picks the right issue and/or if Keir Starmer is feeling opportunistic.

On any given issue, the majority of Tory MPs believe their best interests are served by keeping quiet and backing Sunak. However, on virtually every substantive issue, a large minority disagrees, and another group thinks they lost anyway, so what is a small, lighthearted rebellion between friends?

The biggest thing that could turn things around for Sunak is an outward signal that his political standing is better than it looks. So if the Conservatives’ performance in the City of Chester by-election on Thursday looks more like that of a governing party on the way to re-election (i.e. a big defeat but not an apocalyptic ), you can see how the party is starting to convince itself that the next election is winnable and that MPs need to start rallying around their leader.

I’ve already talked about how I think the Conservatives could pull off an unlikely victory: Focus on voters’ old worries about jobs and taxes, and hope the economy improves and a message” stay the course, better days ahead” is enough for another term in office.

Sunak’s plan, for now, is to stay relatively calm for the rest of the year. The general impression/undeniable reality of chaos and upheaval in government allowed Starmer to very effectively portray himself and Labor as a return to stability and order. Go about a month without a high-profile Tory blowout and that advantage is blunted – or so the theory is.

But the risk of silence is that it allows Sunak to be defined by his internal and external opponents. It undermines his and the Conservative Party’s greatest asset: his own approval ratings and standing in the country, which currently puts him ahead of Starmer in the polls on who would make the best prime minister.

Now try this

I was at the launch of Seb Payne’s second book, The fall of Boris Johnson, last night. It was great fun, as was the book, which is a great gossip read – check out an excerpt here to whet your appetite.

Before getting into journalism, I worked in the book trade, mostly in bookstores that have since been shut down by Amazon or gobbled up by Waterstones. So when my friend Tom Rowley asked me if he should leave The Economist to open a bookstore, I did everything to talk him out of it. I failed.

So you can go see Seb in conversation at Tom’s bookstore in Balham on December 14th. You can get tickets for it and order a copy of the book yourself here.

The FT’s Best Books of the Year – with categories spanning fiction, pop music, economics, history and more – are out now, and you can find the whole series here.

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  • Freedom of expression online | Government removes controversial powers to force internet companies to remove ‘legal but harmful’ content, replacing provision with new rules allowing companies to be more transparent about internal content moderation policies, freedom protections of expression and strict laws on the removal of illegal content. .

  • Officials demand more training | According to a government-backed survey, more than half of UK civil servants warned that their departments lacked the technology tools, resources and skills to transform public services.

  • Payment of the pension scandal | The cost of a pensions scandal involving thousands of steelworkers was expected to be tens of millions of pounds lower than originally forecast thanks to economic conditions shifting in favor of companies footing the compensation bill.

  • Vacancy for Ethics Counselor | Several candidates have turned down the role of ethics adviser to Rishi Sunak, which the Prime Minister pledged to appoint someone when he entered No 10, includes The Guardian’s Jessica Elgot. The position has been vacant for five months.

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